It was the fall of 1994. My father had just been diagnosed with cancer. Apparently, the disease had been at work for a long time. At Thanksgiving, we traveled to my parents’ home in Alberta for a bittersweet weekend.
Meanwhile, my mother-in-law, who had been feeling poorly for years, was told she had a brain tumor. Surgery would take place Thanksgiving Monday, so we rushed home from Alberta to see her before surgery.
We were in the midst of moving my in-laws to a retirement home in the city, and we were moving into their house. Through a number of renovations, moving households without the in-laws in attendance, visiting my dad and my husband’s mom—we carried on with force of will and prayer that sometimes seemed to bounce off the ceiling.
How did this affect my writing?
I obviously had long stretches of time where I couldn’t write, either because I was otherwise occupied, or because my mind was in neutral. But I did learn a number of things about life, about my level of endurance, about responses to trials.
What did I do with what I learned?
Over the years, I’ve transferred some of these experiences into the lives of my characters. This is not a manipulative move, but a logical use of suffering. Why waste it? We want our characters to be realistic, so we allow them to make convincing responses. We provide them with true-to-life challenges to deal with in our stories. We keep throwing difficulties their way, and look for their reactions.
As writers, we are always opening up our lives to public scrutiny by sharing our deep thoughts, our struggles, our victories and defeats…through our characters. We become vulnerable to our readers. That’s the name of the game. We are writing about life.
What else did I learn from the dark times?
That God is faithful all the time, even when we don’t realize it. That He is always seeking us out, offering comfort and healing. And that’s why I weave a thread of faith and hope into every one of my novels. I don’t want to force it; I want it to be organic to the story, but hope is something God has given me, and I need to share it with my readers.
For those interested in how my personal plot turned out: my dear dad passed away ten weeks after diagnosis, shortly before Christmas 1994. We miss him deeply, but he has gone ahead of us into glory. My mother-in-law’s surgery went well, only to be followed by a disabling stroke. She struggled for ten years before she passed on to her heavenly reward. We endured and healed, and are enjoying the lovely home we’ve now lived in for twenty-two years.
Life is not easy. Sometimes it’s very dark. But in Christ, we have hope in all things. That’s something I want to share.